The state's highest court has ordered a new trial in a 1994 homicide in Milton, ruling that the prosecutor gave an improper closing argument.
Jameel Williams was convicted in 2003 of first-degree murder in the June 10, 1994, shooting death of Gregory Cormier. The Supreme Judicial Court said in its ruling yesterday that Robert Nelson, a Norfolk County prosecutor, had, in his closing argument, effectively given testimony and vouched for a witness's credibility.
Nelson erred when he discussed the testimony of a key prosecution witness, Shawn Castle, who had allegedly driven Williams and another member of a Hyde Park gang to Milton to shoot Cormier, the court said.
Nelson described retracing the route that Castle said he had driven. And Nelson told the jury that after doing so, he knew Castle was being truthful.
"The prosecutor related what he did to satisfy himself, before indictment, that what Castle had told him was true, and, on that basis, he decided to seek an indictment and offer Castle a 'deal,' " the court said. "This amounted to unsworn testimony, and vouching, both of which are improper argument."
In a blistering footnote, the court added that Nelson should have known better. "The prosecutor's unnecessary conduct is the sole cause of the need for a new trial at great expense to the Commonwealth and great anguish to Cormier's family," the court said in the opinion, which was written by Justice Francis X. Spina.
Prosecutors argued that the error did not require a new trial, said David Traub, spokesman for the district attorney's office. They also argued that Nelson was simply restating what the jury saw when they retraced the same route during the trial.
"It was a very egregious case of misconduct by the prosecutor," said Michael Tumposky, a lawyer who worked on Williams's appeal. "It just begged to be reversed."
Williams and six others were indicted in 2002 after a cold-case investigation launched by District Attorney William R. Keating, according to his office. Williams, 31, has been in prison since his conviction. Williams's codefendant, Kenyatte Murrell, 35, was also convicted of first-degree murder. Five other men pleaded guilty to accessory charges in the shootings, which also injured another man.
The district attorney's office plans to retry the case, Traub said.